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An Inside Look: The fight to keep COVID-19 patients alive is taxing and ICU nurses are feeling the effects

ICUs are packed with the sickest patients and many are dying. The staff at AdventHealth Carrollwood just lost three COVID patients over the weekend.

CARROLLWOOD, Fla. — It's been 18 months since the pandemic started and now nurses say they're seeing the worst of the virus right now. 

Intensive Care Units are packed with the sickest patients and many are dying. The staff at AdventHealth Carrollwood just lost three COVID patients over the weekend. RN Wei-Chun Cote gave an inside look while staff recorded her day.

"You're in the ICU right now. In a COVID unit ICU. All the patients here right now currently are on the ventilator," Cote said as the cameras followed her inside.

Her patients are critically ill. The number of them keeps going up as the Delta variant spreads in the community.

"It's the kind of nightmare where you want to wake up, but you can't. You think hopefully maybe they'll turn around, but they don't," Cote said.

Cote is just one of the many team members trying to save patients' lives with urgent and delicate care. But once they get to the point where they need help breathing, the nurse of 20 years says most don't go home.

"The hardest part is they're not coming out of it. We're used to hard work, but we're not used to people dying in such a short period of time, and young people dying," Cote said. "It hurts when you see them 36-years-old, they have little kids at home. You see their wife comes in sits and you have to tell them, 'Your husband is not going to make it.'"

The emotions for the staff are hard to bear. Cote says their patients are young and most are unvaccinated. Plus, staff shortages don't make the job easier. They balance taking care of 8 to 12 patients at a time. 

"We kind of prioritize it. Which one looks the most unstable? That's the first one we're going to go. We put all the resources on that one and have someone standing in the hallway to make sure somebody else is not going next," Cote said.

At this point, time is all that matters. Cote says she checks on her patients in 15-minute increments throughout the day. At any point their status can change.

"My job is to buy time. Can I get you another day? Can I get your family to understand what's going on? Can I help you have a peaceful ending and have your family spend some time at your last breath with you? That's probably my most driven goal and what keeps me going," Cote said.

Healthcare heroes like Cote fight to keep the community alive.

"Do we need a lot of death for the public to realize how important the vaccine and the mask is? It's a very simple thing to do and we can avoid all this heartache really. I just wish people could understand that," Cote said.

Hospitals tell us there is a critical need for staff and some are even offering incentives to keep them. AdventHealth is one of them. In a statement from the West Florida Division, they say they're taking aggressive steps to recruit the best people possible.

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"AdventHealth is working to provide RN recruitment incentives that are competitive and will help attract top talent. To help retain members we have implemented several recruitment incentive updates across the West Florida Division: 

  • Critical Shift Bonus
  • Seasonal Contract with Completion Bonus
  • $15,000 sign-on bonus for Cath Lab and Respiratory Therapist full-time positions
  • $35,000 bonus for Registered Nurses in the ICU, PCU, Medical/Surgical, Emergency Room and Operating Room full-time positions
  • Up to $5,000 sign-on for newly licensed Registered Nurses